HEC is such a diverse place that I not only have to adapt to French culture, but also to the cultures of other exchange students. The exchange community is really close and I’ve been able to make friends with students from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, and others. This has given me the opportunity to learn so many new perspectives and has created numerous learning experiences. I have heard European perspectives on American health-care to Brazilian tastes in American fashion. It has made me rethink some of the cultural values that I considered norms and introduced a fresh opinion on them. It has also been wonderful to have a support group that is also adjusting to French culture. Some of the things that stand out are that butter is never served with bread, French students will always be late to class, and your class will never be in the same room twice.
I can’t believe the first week of classes is already over. While I don’t have many classes my first few weeks, I am still adjusting to life at HEC and the courses I am taking. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far is speaking French with native speakers. They speak very rapidly and I think my accent can be a bit of a challenge for them. My best strategy for this is to just remain calm and politely ask them to restate what they just said. If that doesn’t work I usually ask if they speak English and go from there. Within Paris, many people do speak English, but fewer do in the suburbs. Usually I prefer if they don’t speak English because then I’m forced to figure out how to correctly communicate in French.
This is a bit silly, but a big cultural difference I’ve faced so far is the eating schedule in France and on campus. Breakfast isn’t served in the campus dining hall which can make it tough to get through morning classes. There is a café in the building with our classes but the line is usually long. Also, when the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner it’s only open for a narrow amount of time. Some of my friends have classes that go through lunch and I’m worried that might happen to me later in the semester.
Other than that, I haven’t really struggled with cultural conflict. HEC is very international so it has been easy to meet other students. I’ve met more international students than French students, but those I have met are very kind. Even in just one week, it’s been so amazing to meet so many people from countries around the world. I am learning a lot and moving forward I think I’m going to try to speak French more with my international friends. That should be a low stress way to improve my conversational skills.
HEC Paris is a very curious place, the one you could probably never describe in one word.
First, the mix of people is unusual. At HEC there are students from Bachelors to CEO level. It’s bizarre to see them side by side. On one hand, there are young french guys and girls who have just finished two super intense years of prépas and now go crazy enjoying the freedom. On the other hand, there are serious MBA students who know exactly what they want and are working hard towards the goal. The former are wearing sweatshirts and snickers, the latter are mostly in suits and dresses. Younger are in a bar, older are at a library. This is not something we are used to at UVA, but it definitely feels more like a real world, not a bubble populated only by college kids. I’m excited to be in this environment and I’m looking forward to see what I will be able to learn from these people.
Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to study abroad in France. My high school French teachers both studied abroad and shared stories about how amazing it was. When I arrived at UVA, I started taking French courses and explored different options. I was happy to discover that McIntire had its own study abroad program and that I could travel to Paris. This was the first time that both of my academic interests coincided: commerce and French.
Am I still European or am I now more American-minded? I have been shaped by the two perspectives. During the semester back in Europe it will be refreshing to pick up long forgotten habits and interesting to see which newly adopted American ones are there to stay.
Specifically, I look for this study abroad experience to help me find work-life, America-Europe balance. I hope France will reteach me to appreciate downtimes more. Conveniently, for the first time in two and a half years I won’t have any CIOs, meetings or endless emails to worry about. Even though it’s challenging for me to get used to this freedom, I try hard to start the habit of doing less.
I can’t even begin to believe that I have only ten days left here, and I find myself feeling pulled in two directions. One part of me can’t wait to go home to see my friends and family, to catch up on all of the things I missed while away, to eat my favorite foods, to go on hikes in Colorado, to see the view of the mountains each day, to watch all of my favorite sports teams, to drive my car instead of taking public transportation, to sleep in my own bed, to not have to share a bathroom with 30 people, and to take my dogs on a walk. Essentially, I can’t wait to just return to my normal life. But on the other hand, I can’t dream of even slightly wanting to go home. I’ve made a new home here. I’ve become accustomed to having people from all around the world constantly around me. I’ve enjoyed trying new foods every day, to stopping in to a boulangerie to get a warm baguette, to taking an afternoon off to just sit in a café to write a postcard, and of stopping on the Champ de Mars to watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle one last time. I like knowing that I can wake up, hop on a train, and moments later get lost in an art gallery or explore endless halls of history. I love the excitement of planning a last minute, yet somehow affordable trip to another country. I even have liked the struggle involved in saying something in French, of searching my mind for the phrase I want and somehow succeeding in communicating my message. I guess what I’ve loved most is that constant pace of exploring the unknown, a pace that has become my new normal.
Once again, over here in France, we are back on Spring Break. Because of the way that the semester is organized here, we have our classes split into two quarters with a break in the middle of each quarter. As a result, I took this opportunity to do a little more traveling while I am still in Europe.
These past few weeks have been the epitome of “study abroad.” During the week, I was busy studying and starting various projects but also had the chance to take advantage of my time abroad and explore France a bit more during the weekend.
On the “study” side of things, I just started a research project with a professor here. Right now, it’s in the beginning stages of collecting data, but soon we’ll get more insights for the paper that is exploring the topic of negotiations and replication of data. Even more, for this project, I’m working with other students from several different countries in order to contribute to a larger project that is being done across the globe. This research, particularly with such an international feel, is an opportunity I’m sure I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t my choice to study abroad.
I’m still living here in Jouy, and the weather is finally starting to improve! It still rains a lot, but at least today is nice and sunny. I’ve also been learning (very poorly) the metric system because it’s difficult to communicate in Fahrenheit and miles when everyone else uses Celsius and kilometers. So today is about 12 degrees which is decent weather but not as warm as Charlottesville.
I’ve been abroad for two months now, time is flying by! I’m happy to be in France, especially now as the weather is warming up (even though today is still rainy and cold). There haven’t been too many shocking cultural differences, especially since I’ve already spent an extended period of time living in France. There are some aspects that are as frustrating as ever such as the difficulties involved with taking public transportation into Paris, especially when there’s a strike or “le mouvement social”. French people are still protesting proposed changes to the labor law that would supposedly stimulate the economy by expanding working hours. Today, only one of two RER B trains were running. It took me about 2 hours to take a bus, a RER, and two metros from campus to a friend’s apartment in Paris 18, which is honestly shorter than I expected.